From an early age, I liked monster movies. I can remember watching some black-and-white classics, starring the greats of the era. Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Bela Lugosi were some I remember. My favorite was Christopher Lee’s Dracula, one of the reasons I was so psyched to see him cast as Saruman in the Lord of the Rings and Count Dooku in Star Wars. Vampires in particular seemed to occupy my imagination for many years afterward, only to slacken off a bit after my college years until True Blood brought me back to them. Really, I just watched it because my wife was watching it. Ok, I’m lying. I hung in there until the second-to-last season, mainly because the show had a lot of what I like about vampires, for the first several seasons anyway, and skipped much of what I don’t like about vampire fiction. I appreciate the sensuality of the vampire mystique, but it’s not the selling point for me. I’m more a fan of the complications of immortality, the moral dilemmas behind their snacking habits, and what basically boils down to superhuman predators disguised as humans. By and large, the books I’ve read have been superior to all the movies and TV shows I’ve seen. Here are some of my favorites.
The first vampire novel I ever read that flew in the face of the movies I enjoyed during childhood was “Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King. I did enjoy the movie, but the book is far superior. The small-town setting provided a level of familiarity among the characters that caused all kinds of tensions. There was no way people could avoid confronting the fact that something awful plagued the village, as people they had known for years seemed to disappear. Characters my age were missing, only to reappear to friends who had attended their funerals. One of the heroes was a kid like me, who read books and watched monster movies and let his imagination get the best of him. He and an out-of-town writer made a horrible team of vampire hunters, but that was part of the magic of the story. They were desperate to save the town and the important people in their lives, and there was nobody else to do it.
“Vampire$”, by John Steakley, was eventually made into a movie, starring James Woods as the leader of a secret band of vampire hunters working for the Catholic Church. I liked the movie, mainly due to Woods’ fine portrayal of the main character, but the book was even better. It’s a gritty, high-velocity thriller, and the vampires aren’t portrayed as age-weary romantics. They’re hunters with a plan to take back their rightful place as head of the food chain. Their main opposition is all too human, fragile despite their best toys and tactics, and not completely up to the task. It makes for a great read, as the ragtag band comes up against the worst of their fears in a winner-take-all battle for humanity.
Probably my favorite vampire novel of all time is “Necroscope” by Brian Lumley. It’s really much more of a Cold War spy novel than anything, but vampires were the main draw for me. The novel involves two competing psychic espionage agencies, setting up the main characters from each faction to face off. The influence of the vampire is interwoven artfully, with peeks into his history as well as his current ambitions. The novel is followed by a whole series full of compelling characters, both human and vampire, some of whom seem far more evil than any undead parasite. There’s no arguing the originality of Lumley’s vampire lore, again deviating from some of the classics and the popular successors to this genre.
Writing about these books makes me want to read them all over again, even though I’ve read each of them multiple times. I guess it’s time for me to find some new vampire fiction, so if you have any recommendations, please let me know. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing what you’ve been reading in the comments here, on Facebook, or Goodreads.